- Nancy Pelosi said last year that Biden doesn't have the authority to cancel student debt.
- But last week, Biden canceled up to $20,000 student debt for federal borrowers.
- 94 GOP lawmakers called on Pelosi to stand by her past comments and hold Biden accountable.
Republicans want the Speaker of the House to stand up to President Joe Biden after he canceled student debt.
To many GOP lawmakers' dismay, Biden announced last week up to $20,000 in student-loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients making under $125,000 a year, and up to $10,000 in relief for other federal borrowers under the same income cap.
Leading up to the relief, many critics of the plan argued the president does not have the authority to implement sweeping loan forgiveness without Congress' approval. A year ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was one of those critics, and on Friday, 94 Republicans asked her to do something about it.
Specifically, Pelosi said in July 2021 that "people think that the President of the United States has the power of debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress."
The lawmakers, led by Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, want Pelosi to stand by those comments in a letter obtained by Fox News and declare student-loan forgiveness "unconstitutional and illegal."
"Given your previously stated position and your leadership role as Speaker of the House, it is imperative that you act immediately in defense of our Constitution and the powers of the legislative branch," they wrote in a letter. "Will you commit to supporting your July 2021 statement with definitive action to stand up to this blatant overreach President Biden is enacting?"
"This is an illegal act by a President desperate for a political win," they added. "We hope you will heed your own words and act to defend the Constitution and the rule of law."
However, Pelosi did shift gears on her past comments just one day before Biden announced relief. During a roundtable in Las Vegas, Pelosi said that "we didn't know what — what authority the President had to do this. And now clearly, it seems he has the authority to do this: $10,000 for those with the debt, those making under $125,000 a year. So we're optimistic about what might happen tomorrow."
Even before Biden's announcement, the legality of broad debt relief has been widely debated. Shortly after taking office, Biden himself expressed hesitancy with his authority to cancel a large amount of student debt, asking the Education and Justice departments to prepare memos outlining his legal ability to do so. Both departments concluded the authority exists under the HEROES Act of 2003, which they say gives the Education Secretary the authority to waive or modify borrowers' student-debt balances in connection with a national emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
While former President Donald Trump's administration published a memo concluding that the president can't cancel student debt without Congressional approval, Biden's Education Department called for that memo to be rescinded.
Still, following Biden's announcement, Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the move "100% illegal," and as Insider previously reported, legal battles could arise down the road. But the White House stands by its belief that the legal standing is there to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.